Downingtown Area school officials continue to work on plans for a third school campus to be built on the Siemens tract on Lionville Station Road.The 242-acre property behind Super Fresh is about two miles from the Downingtown High School East campus.
Susan Weidener Cavalieri, a Uwchlan resident for 19 years who lives about a quarter-mile from the Siemens site, spoke about the property at a school board meeting this month.
"It's a quality-of-life issue for me," she said.
Weidener Cavalieri said she and some of her neighbors are trying to form a coalition that would look into the Siemens tract plans. She said they are concerned about environment and transportation issues and the11proximity of the tract to the Downingtown High School East campus.
She said it seems the school board "put all its eggs in one basket in a project that was never really studied."
And Weidener Cavalieri said she believes there was no public discussion before the district acquired the $22 million property.
District Solicitor Guy Donatelli said it's unfair to say the school board had made plans without public input. Donatelli is regularly the solicitor for both the school board and Uwchlan, so he withdrew himself from the case because of conflict-of-interest issues. Robert Adams, of the Gawthrop Greenwood law firm in West Chester, is the solicitor now representing the school district with these plans.
According to school district communication specialist Pat McGlone, the district held at least 10 public meetings - including special hearings, work sessions, finance committee meetings and school board meetings - concerning the Siemens tract.
And the plan is "still working its way through the cycles, " McGlone said.
McGlone said the first talks concerning the Siemens tract took place in 2004 at a finance committee meeting, where the board was made aware of the land.
And a special public hearing took place on Aug. 30, 2006, according to court papers. This hearing is required by the state Department of Education during planning and construction. "PlanCon Part C involves the procedure by which a school district can reserve its right to request reimbursement from the Commonwealth for the purchase of land, " the court papers say.
District Superintendent Sandra Griffin attended the special hearing.
"Over the past years we have witnessed a significant growth in population and student enrollment in our school district, " Griffin said, according to court papers. "Over the past five years, our enrollment increases about 13 percent to its current level, and this is our third-day enrollment, as of today, 11, 611 students."
Currently, 11, 725 students attend the district's schools.
As part of the state-mandated planning and construction process, the school district had to evaluate a minimum of three sites, according to court papers.
Besides the Siemens property, the school district looked at the McCausland property, a 90-acre tract in East Brandywine; and the Fetters/Styer property, a 160-acre tract in Upper Uwchlan.
On Jan. 24, 2007, the school board voted 8-to-1 to go forward with plans to build on the Siemens tract, according to reports.
McGlone said plans for the third campus were presented to Uwchlan's planning commission at a Sept. 5, 2007, meeting.
And on Oct. 10, 2007, a PowerPoint presentation of the site plan was given to Uwchlan supervisors at a township meeting. Because that was the same night as the regular school board meeting, Griffin and Richard Fazio, the district's chief financial officer, gave the presentation.
During the presentation, Fazio said the construction of the third middle school, which is slated to open in 2010, would cost about $48.6 million.
The presentation also showed plans for a third high school, slated to open in 2015; a stadium, to open in 2015; and an 11th elementary school, to open in 2019. The total plan would cost about $163.6 million, according to Fazio.
Fazio also discussed the area's unprecedented growth. He said that as of September 2007, 7, 298 new residences are under construction or being planned in the district's eight municipalities through 2015. On average, each home in the school district brings in 0.58 students, he said.
Weidener Cavalieri said she believes the project lacks regional planning, and she said there seems to be more growth in the school district's north and west areas.
Robert Yorczyk, the district's finance committee chairman, was the only school board member to vote against building on the Siemens tract.
"I felt it was not the right spot" because the campus should be built where a majority of the school district's students live, Yorczyk said.
"We spent a long time looking for property, " said school board member Norman Long, who is chairman of the district's facilities committee.
Long said the school district looked for land that was best suited for a school. Because of rapid land development in the school district, he said, very few suitable parcels of land are left for school buildings.
"The issue is where is the empty land, " said Long. "I can't control what's left." Before the schools are built, Uwchlan officials must approve zoning changes to the Siemens tract. The land is currently zoned for industrial-commercial uses, according to Uwchlan Township Manager Doug Hanley. Township officials have "a lot of work to do" on school district's plans, Hanley said. But he said he has not heard much opposition to the plans from residents so far.
Uwchlan Supervisor Joseph Toner said that because the new school board members elected in November may have different views on the plans, "we've sent a letter to the school board asking for another meeting."
"The school district's facilities team is working with the township's planning commission and its own team of consultants to put together the necessary documentation for the third middle school, " said Adams, the solicitor representing the school district with these plans. "The township appears to be working with us." In addition to the hearing for the zoning changes, Adams said he expects a conditional-use hearing will be needed.
He said no future public meetings with the planning commission have been scheduled, but he expects a meeting to take place within months.
Thomas Oeste, of the West Chester law firm Barnes, Spangler, Oeste & Wood, is special counsel for Uwchlan in this case. He said he had no comments at this time.